By Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D.
Founder and CEO
Joy Junction Inc.
Chaplain Gene Shiplet
Joy Junction Chaplain Gene Shiplet began this week just like any other-loving Jesus, people and smiling.
Gene attended our Monday staff meeting, which was where I saw him for the last time. After giving a short review of his work week, he asked if we would like him to work on Christmas Day.
We said we would, knowing that “Happy Chappy’s” smile and encouragement would be invaluable for our guests-some of whom have a very difficult time coping with the holidays.
Gene worked Monday and Tuesday at Joy Junction, but none of our staff knew that as he pulled out of the driveway Tuesday afternoon to drive home to be with his beloved wife Barbara, that they wouldn’t see him again this side of heaven.
Tuesday evening he left this life, and went to be with the Lord whom He had served and reflected for so many years.
As the word spread around Joy Junction staff and guests late that evening and the next morning, shock permeated the shelter and tears flowed. No more “Chappy.”
We’re still in shock, and as I write this, I can hear his words of encouragement in my head. What a blessing he has been to me and Joy Junction throughout the years, and how glad I am that he joined my wife Elma and I together in marriage earlier this year.
As his obituary says, “Gene committed his life to serving the Lord in so many ways, as a chaplain, counselor, friend and family member. He is greatly loved and will be dearly missed.”
That’s so true. We asked a few of our guests what “Chappy” had meant to them. There was no shortage of people wanting to tell us.
Julian said he first met Gene while in prison. (Gene had been actively involved in prison ministry for a number of years).
He said, “He had a big smile then, as he did on his last days here … He would make you feel loved, and even though we are homeless we had a home in his heart.”
Tanya called Gene’s life “phenomenal.” She said, “Jesus did say to be like Him, and in my eyes, (he was). He never turned anyone away. He was full of love and compassion, and he knew that all can be changed to follow God.”
Someone else said that Gene exemplified Christ in everything he did.
That person continued, “This was a man who could have been a great success in a business and professional life, but he chose to work with the poor and less fortunate and to go as Jesus (said) “where the sinners are.”
That individual described Gene as a “shining example” of a “true Christian.”
“His loss is a great blow to us all, but we can take consolation in the fact that he is up there watching over us all with the Heavenly Father.”
Ashley called Gene “an amazing man who had such a big heart and love for everyone. He never judged anyone, who they are or when they came from.”
Ashley said she always enjoyed the stories Gene would tell when he would teach class for our Christ in Power life recovery program.
She added, “He always had his huge smile, a smile that would make a person’s mood change from upset to happy and better … There’s so many good thing about Gene it’s hard to tell them all.”
Ashley said she will always remember “Chappy,” and have a special place in her heart for him.
Someone else described Gene as the always smiling face at Joy Junction. She added, “Just his presence alone brought smiles, happiness and joy to all of us here.”
This woman said she had turned to Gene when going through some extreme personal difficulties. She said, “He stopped what he was doing to listen to me, be there for me, pray with me, comfort and reassure me. When I walked away from him, I walked away feeling much better with renewed hope, positive and happier feelings.”
She concluded, “Chappy was love; Chappy was faith; Chappy was one of a kind and he will be forever remembered and loved by all.”
Another guest said that after being at a crossroads in his life and talking with Gene, he and his wife signed up for our nine month life recovery program.
That, he said, was “the greatest adventure I’ve ever experienced. Chappy saved my life.”
Another guest who wanted to remain anonymous perhaps summed up everyone’s feelings. That person wrote, “Chappy came into my life as a light in the darkness, with no judgment nor preconceived opinion. He gave me comfort, compassion and guidance.
“Never did I feel unworthy nor outcast, even in my darkest moments. He has given me the desire to learn and understand, and be with Christ in my humble life. He allowed me to smile through my tears. My life is blessed for having had him in our short time together. He opened a door for my new life.”
Death is inevitable. It’s part of life. It’s not a question of “if” we die, but “when.” How we spend our brief time on earth determines our legacy. We know what people are saying about Gene. What will they say about us?